Early Friday evening, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) announced that the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) has had all its federal funding taken away.
“The unfortunate reality in recent years, particularly following the 2011 floods in Manitoba, is that the current arrangement with the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) has not met the needs of First Nation communities. Given that MANFF is in default of their agreement with AANDC, and the organization has not proven they can competently deliver the services Manitoba First Nations deserve, we are immediately withholding funds from MANFF and have given them notice that the agreement will not be renewed,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
In the spring of 2011 the Manitoba government intentionally flooded Manitoba’s Interlake area to spare Winnipeg from high water. It resulted in a handful of reserves being evacuated. Little Saskatchewan and Lake St. Martin First Nations were essentially written-off. Thousands of people had to be put up in hotels around the province. MANFF was put in charge of caring for evacuees while they waited to go home.
However as APTN Investigates reported a year ago, allegations of misspending had begun to surface. By the time Ottawa started questioning where the money was going, mountains of bills were unpaid and media was all over the story of a $1-million tab for late-night snacks, a romantic trip taken by two MANFF staffers on the company dime, and outrageous overtime and mileage claims by senior MANFF staff, and in some cases, their kids.
Mike Bruneau owned three hotels that housed some of the 2,000 evacuees long-term. He blew the lid off of MANFF’s problems in 2012, showing $1-million in unpaid bills. Aboriginal Affairs had paid MANFF to cover the food and lodging costs, but MANFF didn’t use the money for that purpose. Aboriginal Affairs cut Bruneau a cheque and commenced an investigation into MANFF’s operations.
Bruneau told APTN he believes cutting MANFF’s funding is Ottawa’s way of distancing itself from a damning audit and operational review. AANDC has released highlights but not the full report.
“They’ve known since early 2012 money was being [misused] and they didn’t do anything until now? It’s a bit of a joke,” he said.
Bruneau filed a lawsuit in the summer against the federal government for another $3 million in unpaid bills.
“[The government] tried to settle with me but I’m not settling until I see that audit. There’s more than the finances in that audit and I want the public to know,” Bruneau said.
Bertha Travers is one of the evacuees. She said bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behavior by MANFF staff to evacuees was widespread. She thinks cutting off funding to effectively shutter the agency, doesn’t go far enough.
Some of the highlights of AANDC’s Investigation of Allegations at MANFF include:
No financial statements were produced during the 27-month period since the 2011 flood event.
Bank reconciliations were not being completed during the 27-month period since the flood when approximately $90 million has been expended.
A number of transactions were missing from the Association’s financial records.
In 2011-12, $1,000 bonus was given to a few employees for unknown reasons. An employee was paid approximately $42,000 in overtime for 2011-12 and 2012-13. The next highest overtime pay was $12,000.
Neither the Chief Executive Officer nor the Chief Financial Officer demonstrated leadership in instituting the necessary changes to allow the Association to manage appropriately the evolving complexities of the flood program.
Advances provided by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada have been used for purposes where the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization claims have been denied, or for non-food related expenditures incurred by the Association.
Mona Lisa Ristorante was retained to provide night time snacks to certain evacuees as hotel kitchens were closed in the evenings (from October 2011 to April 2013 when services were discontinued). The Association’s management of Mona Lisa Ristorante had little consideration for value for money.
It appears AANDC will only deal with the province in the future when planning to provide fire protection on Manitoba’s First Nations.
“Going forward, we continue to strongly encourage the province of Manitoba to negotiate an emergency management agreement with the federal government so that together we can ensure First Nations receive the support they deserve,” said Valcourt.
-with files from Melissa Ridgen